Posts Tagged ‘Arbutus unedo Rubra’

When I was in school I often learned one than one genus and from that point there can be many subspecies and hybrids. Often plants from a genus look very similar and other times do not. One genus we learned was Arbutus. Arbutus menziesii  is a tree and Arbutus unedo which is a shrub. Arbutus unedo or the Strawberry tree is a great shrub which is well adapted for use here it the Victoria area.

Arbutus unedo

An attractive Arbutus unedo at a driveway entrance.

Arbutus unedo come from the Mediterranean area and range from Turkey, Lebanon  through to western areas of France and Spain and Portugal. They are also found in south western Ireland and are believed to be pre-glaciation remnants of  the range where these plant originally lived. The area which Strawberry trees or more commonly bushes are found in the wild has drastically shrunk do to harvesting of the wood for manufacturing of charcoal.

A happy Arbutus unedo which is loaded with fruit.

Arbutus unedo or as they are known in Ireleand as Killarney Strawberry Trees are viewed as 4 season plants as they have beautiful evergreen foliage which looks good throughout the year, berries which are take a year to for and ripen and flowers which bloom late in the year when little else is.

Arbutus unedo blossoms

The small waxy blosoms of Arbutus unedo bloom from October through December here.

Right now there are still some flowers on many bushes and crops of fruit are coloring up in a most attractive way for the Christmas season. The shrub in the above picture is covered with fruit which suggests it is in a perfect location.  The fruit are actually aggregate drupes which have a pasty bland flavor. The fruit is now used to make jams, jellies and a strong Brandy type drink (Medronho) which is made in Portugal. Pliny the Elder felt that the fruit was not worth eating, he  wrote in 50 A.D. ‘unum edo’ – ‘I eat one’ which said to be where we get unedo. the name Arbutus is from their original Latin name.

Arbutus unedo fruit

The fruits of Arbutus unedo are brightly colored and unusual looking.

Arbutus are members of the Ericaceae family which tend to need acidic soil to grow their very best. Strawberry trees are and exception to this rule and tolerate limey soil very well and are found in France growing in sandy locations. Generally here Arbutus unedo are grown as shrubs, they can be trained as a tree which is achieved by removing the lower branches as they bud out. The bark is an attractive cinnamon color and is cracked and is said to come off in strips in larger trunks, I have not seen this.

Arbutus unedo bark

The attractive bark on this very large Arbutus unedo branch.

Although we usually see Arbutus unedo as shapely rounded shrubs, they can grow to be quite large. They grow  to 10.5m(33ft) tall by the same spread and can grow very large trunks.  In a perfect setting they have full exposure to sun and very well drained soil. They can also do very well in wetter climates as long as the soil is very well drained, they do not tolerate being in overly damps soil.  They are naturally adapted to dry summers and develop long taproots soon after they are established. The taproot mean you have to be careful about where you are planting this plant as they do not do well if they are moved later on.

These Arbutus unedo have been planted to form a hedge which can be infomal or formal with pruning.

Arbutus unedo are versatile and can be used as formal or informal  hedging, specimens or back ground shrubs. They are great in more neglected locations such as on driveways and areas which are not near water sources. The fruit will attract birds who will eat it.  There are few pests and diseases and these can be avoided with proper care of the plant. These plants are rated at zones 7 through 10 (0-10f or -7 to-12c).The leaves can be damaged by cold dry snaps such as what we had last winter, the plants I see around here where not damaged at all.  A Strawberry tree is seen on the city crest of Madrid Spain.

Arbutus unedo foliage.

The foliage of Arbutus unedo is clean and attractive.

There are several attractive forms which can be found in nurseries; ‘Elfin King’ is often sold as ‘Compacta’ and has white flowers and ‘Rubra’ is pink blooming.

More on Arbutus unedo:

Surprisingly I find Wiki a good source of information relating to plants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_Tree

Great Plant Picks for the Northwest: http://www.greatplantpicks.org/display?id=2246

Paghat agrees with me: http://www.paghat.com/strawberrytree.html

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